Theses Doctoral

From the Schoolhouse to the Statehouse: The Role of Teach For America Alumni in Education Policy

Reddy, Vikash T.

Teach For America (TFA) is a non-profit whose mission involves addressing and eliminating the racial achievement gap in education. To that end, TFA recruits and trains thousands of teachers each year, mostly recent college graduates, to spend two years teaching in low-income neighborhoods across America. The theory of change publicly espoused by TFA, however, includes a second component that is predicated on the notion that participation in TFA will be a “transformational experience” for those who join the organization – an experience that will turn participants into lifelong advocates for educational equity, and inform and influence their future endeavors. While TFA has long been a magnet for controversy, the criticisms have come to include the organization’s place in a policy context awash with neoliberal influences.
Researchers have looked at the impact of TFA teachers on student outcomes with increasingly sophisticated research designs, but much less has been written about the second half of TFA’s theory of change. Further, while the exploits of TFA and its alumni in policy are increasingly the subject of both academic and popular articles, little of this research examines the role that the TFA experience is playing in the current work of TFA alumni in policy.
Using data gathered from 45 semi-structured interviews with TFA alumni who now work in public policy, as well as news sources, public statements and press releases from TFA and its leadership and other publicly available materials, this dissertation examines the ways in which TFA and its alumni are involved in education policy, and how the TFA experience factors into the lives and work of these alumni. This study also examines the ways in which TFA and its alumni are engaged in matters of charter schools and school choice, teacher evaluation and accountability, and teacher preparation policy, as well as the ways in which alumni credit their TFA experience for influencing their views. Further, this work looks to separate the influences that come directly from TFA, such as TFA messaging or TFA-planned events, and those that are the result of joining TFA, but that fall outside of TFA’s immediate control.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Education Policy
Thesis Advisors
Ready, Douglas David
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
May 5, 2016